World Exclusive Interview of George Michael in Mirror written by Piers Morgan and published on July 1, 2002.
SEPTEMBER 11 was a shocking day for the
For pop superstar George Michael, the horrific events unfurling in New York also represented a weird and distressing coincidence.
Watching the World Trade Center towers collapsing on TV in a North London recording studio, George burst into tears.
He felt anguish for the thousands dying in the mayhem and also bewilderment – because he’d spent the past few months writing a song based on the very world turmoil that led to the attack.
That song, Shoot The Dog, was delayed for obvious reasons.
It’s being released this week, amended slightly to bring it up to date.
The single’s cover includes a front page of the Daily Mirror, headlined Howdy Poodle, criticising the Prime Minister’s apparent sucking up to President Bush.
It’s the first time a national newspaper has been used by a major artist in this way.
And George Michael knows Shoot The Dog represents the biggest risk of his controversial career.
Even bigger than his arrest for getting too friendly with a Los Angeles policeman in that now infamous public loo incident.
THE song is a vintage George dance track – upbeat, catchy, toe-tapping. But the lyrics are, not to put too fine a point on it, sensational.
The frothy love epithets that dominated his earlier albums have been jettisoned for an extraordinary political statement that will spark either uproar or support depending on your standpoint.
They expose the culture of fear, retribution and often mindless bigotry pervading world affairs right now – and particularly in America.
One line reads: “Mustapha, Mazeltov, the Gaza Boys, all that holy stuff. I get the feelin’ when it all goes off, they’re gonna shoot the dog, they’re gonna shoot the dog.”
Another sneers: “Nine nine nine gettin’ jiggy. People did you see that fire in the City? It’s like we’re getting fresh out of democratic. Gotta get yourself a little something semi-automatic, yeah…”
But the real eye-lid snapper mocks Tony Blair’s cosy poodle-style relationship with George Bush, with a bare-knuckle sex jibe to boot. It says: “So Cherie, my dear, could you leave the way clear for sex tonight? Tell him: ‘Tony, Tony, Tony, I know that you’re horny but there’s somethin’ bout that Bush ain’t right’.”
It’s hot stuff and George knows that anything could happen once it’s released later this week. “I’ve been advised that radio stations which rely on government licences might ban it – but I want it heard, not banned. It could get slated, it could land me right in the s**t.
But I hope it just gets people debating. “Because there’s never been a more important time to talk than now. “To be perfectly honest, this makes my experience with a certain policeman in Los Angeles look like a tea party,” he laughs as we chat in his North London recording studio. GEORGEis anxious. Excited, but worried, too. Because this song could either make or break the next phase in the extraordinary life and times of Britain’s most successful contemporary songwriter.
“I know this is dangerous territory,” he says. “I’ve never done anything so political before. I’ve spent years shouting my mouth off about serious issues over dinner tables but never really had the confidence to express my views in a song.
“But I really feel this is such a serious time for us all that being silent is not an option.” George had been working on the track for several months before September 11.
It was a massive departure for him to be writing about politics and international affairs. But one that just naturally evolved as he grieved for his mother, who died two years ago.
He recalls: “I was pretty depressed about my mother’s death. In fact, I was as down as I’ve ever been. It was evenworse than when my lover Anselmo died and I found it hard to cope.
“I was moping around the house, smoking spliffs, drinking too much and watching a load of serious late-night television like Question Time and Newsnight because I couldn’t sleep. “And I noticed a lot of stuff about the growing fear of a war between the secular world and the fundamentalist world.
“It was something I’d never really thought about but the more I learned, the more fearful I became that it might happen – and that Britainmight be caught right in the middle of it. “Tony Blair was being seen as America’s strongest ally at a point when the Middle East was feeling increasingly bullied by the West, and America in particular, and when many developing countries were getting their hands on some serious weapons of destruction.
“And it occurred to me that Britain was starting to become a moredangerous place than it used to be for that reason.
“And I simply wanted to write a song that said to everybody, ‘people let’s be aware of this situation and understand that there’s some very pissed off people out there and that America – and us, for that matter – need to start to listen to them a little’. “I see politics in very human terms. In other words, even though there is a lot of complication and complexity to politics,what it really boils down to is human reaction between different factions, at least when you’re talking about the possibility of war.
“The way I saw it was it’s a bit like being at school and being one of those kids that makes friends with the tallest, biggest toughest guys in the playground to make sure that nobody beats you, nobody picks on you.
“Now that’s a very sensible, strategic way to behave if you’re not the strongest boy in the class.
“But it’s not necessarily a clever way to behave if the other kids have got really pissed off with the bully and have got some nasty weapons.”THEsong was nearly finished when George was called to watch the TV by a producer at his studio on September 11.
He recalls: “He ran in and said, ‘you’re not going to believe what you’re about to see’ and when I saw it, it was just after the first plane had hit, so it just looked like a tragic accident.
“Then the second plane hit and everybody in the studio realised it was deliberate and started to freak out and within an hour – apart from being as terrified as everybody else – I was just totally freaked out that what I had been writing about was happening in front of my eyes.” As George watched the screen, tears streamed down his face.
“I cried simply because it was such a shocking, sickening attack on humanity, you know, beyond any callous acts that you could ever remember. It was just the worse thing to even conceive of doing something as evil as that.
“But I felt confused because I’d written this song for a reason but now the reason was very puzzling… I certainly didn’t want to look opportunistic, so I sat on the song and didn’t know what to do with it.” George feared the worst as America fuelled itself with an overt lust for vengeance and retribution.
“I think I was as terrified as anybody else with moderate views that Mr Bush was not necessarily the best man for the job, that he might be too trigger- happy.
“I mean, you’re talking about a man who signed the highest number of death warrants of any governor in America and I was afraid he’d just go mad.
“Then I was relieved that there seemed to be restraint being shown and an effort made to get a consensus going before anything was done. But then the bombers went into Afghanistan and started blitzing everything and I just watched in horror…” As George recoiled at America’s gung-ho response and Britain’s tacitapproval, he clicked on to the Mirror’s website and saw John Pilger’s dramatic front page article, This War’s A Fraud. George says: “It was not the normal tabloid stuff and obviously John Pilger’s a hugely-respected journalist, so I read it keenly.
“I was appalled by the massive discrepancy between what he was saying and what the rest of the media was telling us.
“The Mirror kept asking more and more questions and I thought it was so refreshing to see a paper doing this – not just accepting what the government was saying.HE adds: “I was surprised to read all the Mirror coverage of the war because I thought it was brave, refreshing, bold and politically astute.
“I very rarely agree with anything I read in the tabloids but I did agree with a lot of your stuff. “Because I live in Britain and felt apprehensive, I wanted to be sure our leaders knew what they were doing.
“But apart from the Mirror, there was very little of this kind of debate getting into mainstream media and that angered me.
“People were just not talking about it properly and anyone who raised concerns was being branded a traitor or unpatriotic.” George bristles at the potential accusation of treachery. “I’m an extremely patriotic person,” he snorts.
“One of the most patriotic you will ever meet. “I live here, the only time I went out of the country and didn’t pay tax was when I was on a 10-month tour, so it was a six-week absence for tax reasons. Every other year of my life I’ve paid my full tax.
“I’ve travelled the world and I absolutely know that England is the place that I want to be. “I just believe that as a country we’re not being allowed to discuss the fact that Britain’s the second most dangerous place on earth right now.
“I don’t know if it’s ‘undoable’. At the moment we’re definitely a target and if we’re a target, we deserve to discuss why we’re a target. “I’m not a nationalist or a racist. I’m very proud of England, more than anything for its multiculturalism.
“Despite all that’s said, we’re actually a lot less racist than most countries I have visited.” GEORGE is aware that his views might further anger the public in America, where his career has already hit a suspiciously homophobic blip following his adventures in that LA loo. But he stresses: “I’m not anti- American. I’ve lived with Kenny, a Texan, for six years. And I lived out there for a couple of years – so I know and like Americans. “I don’t consider Americans bullies but I do consider the American government bullying – they’ve largely controlled the world for the past 50 years with money, political power
“And they control the US media by making all the news very localised. “Before Watergate, there was apparently much more international news coverage in America and the people were much better informed.
But now there’s hardly any overseas content. “And my fear about Mr. Blair and his desire to be seen as our first President is that he’s happy to see us distracted when there are very important issues to be decided
“He doesn’t seem to want to have a big debate about his decisions when, in fact, they are unbelievably important to all of us.
“This is the most dangerous period of our lives. I think my post- war generation all feel more concerned about our future now than we ever have. “And we want to be sure that our leaders are listening to us and making the right decisions.”HEadds: “It’s all very well cosying up to America and talking up our special relationship but we have a large Islamic population here.
“Our government needs to reassure the Islamic population that we are not going into the Middle East with a gung-ho attitude, blindly following America… and that we are known for our restraint and reason. “There must be a lot of Islamic people feeling veryuncomfortable in Britain right now and that’s not right.” George’s biggest concern is that America will drag Britain into a war with Saddam Hussein.
He says: “It’s obvious they can’t find Osama bin Laden and obvious that Bush is under pressure from his peopleto do something – and all this talk of Iraq gave me the chillsbecause it smacked of wanting to finish his dad’s unfinished business and get rid of Saddam. “There’s also the fact that Americans understandably wanted to know who was going to take the blame for this and wanted to feel safer.
Unfortunately, I think they have been shown the issues in very simplistic terms.”We have to understand that Saddam is a hero to his people.
“He switched to Islam after the invasion of Kuwait to get Arab support, even though he rules through terror. “He’s a man who wants to be seen as a world power and, by frightening us, he is becoming a world power. “And if we corner him he is toodramatic not to go out with a bang. He has nothing to lose. “The other night I watched John Simpson’s BBC documentary about Saddam and it was just fantastic.
“But why the hell was that on so late at night? Why was that not a mainstream show? “He explained the whole Iraq thing simply and brilliantly – arguing the case for waiting and seeing where Saddam is going before we do anything stupid.”THE singer fears it may end up like a cowboy film, “where the baddy is cornered in a bar and has no option but to go out in a blaze of glory.
“If we just storm in there now there’ll be a disaster that will destroy any chance of stability in that region for a very, very long time.” George could talk for England, let alone sing for it. But it’s good talk.
He keeps up his fluent, intelligent and challenging chatter for several hours. He’s well-informed, hugelyopinionated and doesn’t give a monkey’s if people think he should just keep quiet and sing nice tunes.
“To all those who say ‘who the f*** does he think he is?’ I say, well I’m a concerned Englishman living in a very dangerous time for this country, who is fortunate enough to have a platform to speak out.
“I just hope that this record helps in a tiny way to consolidate the idea that we don’t automatically do as we’re told in terms of our relationship with America. “No more than that.” But George is well aware of the maelstrom of indignant fury that might erupt this week.
“This is the most political thing I’ve ever done and it’s a massive and totally unnecessary risk for me. “I don’t know how it will go down, particularly in America. But it’s important to me that I should be free to express myself.
“This is the first time I’ve really had the guts to go for something knowing I might get critically savaged for it. There’s always beenthis nagging worry of people saying, ‘look, mate, you’re a rich pampered pop star – what the f*** do you know about it?’ “But now I feel confident enough to just go for it. And I should have a right to say these things without being ripped to pieces.
” To the obvious charge that he might be exploiting world events for commercial gain, George is determinedly robust. “Of course, I want to sell this record – there’s no point making it otherwise. But this is something I really care about. This matters to me. “I’d be happier to get a real debate going than having a big hit record.” SHOOT The Dog pokes fun at both Tony and Cherie Blair, so what does George think of them? “I’m not anti-Blair. I met Tony Blair a few months before the 1997 election and I think he’s remained the same decent man he seemed then.
“But he’s quite religious and I’m not sure that ever mixes very well with politics. “Especially when you pair him up with an outspokenly Christian President – because then we have a clash of two religious cultures, Islam and Christianity and that can make things much more difficult. “Blair clearly thinks it’s really sexy to be up there with Mr Bush on the world stage. I think he’s also motivated by a real desire to be a positive influence.
“But he doesn’t seem to want to listen to anyone in the process.” George was surprised and relieved to see Britain’s PM standing up to Bush on the issue of Arafat leading the Palestinians. “He’s finally shown some balls and he’s right.
“If you start telling the Palestinians they can’t choose their own leader then you are doing exactly what makes life dangerous for us right now. It’s patronising them.”MUCH as George “absolutely detests” the idea of the suicide bombers, he believes everybody has the right to their own elections.
“Blair was expressing a European view and I think if he wants to be a world leader who can actually have something positive to say, surely he should try to be an intelligent, mediating and restraining voice – a mouthpiece for Europe not just Britain.
“I don’t actually believe our future is any safer with America than with Europe and I think that there’s a horrible feeling in Europe at the moment about the British.
“Blair should cut all the spin, stop treading on eggshells all the time and start giving it to us straight. “Good or bad. The public are in the mood to embrace a politician who speaks the truth, however unpalatable.
“If he can turn it round now, then that would be great. But I suspect it may be too late. “All the spin has killed a lot of our trust in him. “As for Cherie, it was a shame she got such a hammering over those suicide bomber remarks, because she’s a nice lady who was only saying what a lot of people think – even if she screwed up how to say it.
“But the PM’s wife is always a good vehicle for satire, so I put her in the song to make a point and make people laugh.
“I want people to listen to this record, enjoy it, laugh at it, and then think about it. That’s all.” Shoot The Dog is released this week.
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael Interview on CNN Defending ‘Shoot the Dog’
- Graham Norton Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael Interview with Kirsty Wark on Politics, Iraq War and ‘Shoot the Dog’
- George Michael: Unzipped (Marie Claire, 2004)